“The Lord’s Will Be Done”
Key Verse: 21:13
“Then Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’”
Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian church elders on the beach at Miletus is one of the most beautiful and moving speeches to ever be recorded in the Bible. They reflect the man Paul’s shepherd heart for God’s people whom he raised in the Lord and whom he loved as if they were his own children. He was truly a man in Christ whose legacy was stamped on every heart his life influenced and changed. When he finished speaking to these elders, they all tearfully parted company and Paul and his companions were sailing on again. Paul’s aim was eventually to reach Jerusalem. Why did he want to visit Jerusalem? Well that’s a very good question. Actually “He was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, possibly, by the day of Pentecost” (20:16) if he could. One reason he was in a hurry was to deliver an offering some of Paul’s Gentile churches had made for the poor saints in Jerusalem. He had made the other reason very clear recently when he said: “After I have been there… I must visit Rome also.” (19:21) His decision to visit Rome was not his own idea; it was God’s conviction in his heart that Rome was essential to the message of the gospel reaching the ends of the earth in obedience to our Lord Jesus’ command in Acts 1:8. But before he reaches Rome, he must reach Jerusalem. And Paul knew that won’t be easy at all. Prison and great hardship waited for him there by the hand of his own people. But he was undeterred— adamant— determined to still go. Why would a man walk right into the lion’s den? Well, that’s we’d like this passage to tell us.
It must have been a very good reason indeed— to go to Jerusalem, that is, knowing full well what’s going to happen to him there. I know we’ve listed a couple of them we know of! But in a way they don’t seem to answer the question of why he’d willingly walk into the lion’s den. It seems he could have sent the offering with those he trusts; And he could have gone to Rome avoiding Jerusalem all together, as so many of the believers have suggested. Love is a strange thing, a power beyond human comprehension, so much so that no one has ever been able to tame it, or contain it, or create it, or recreate it, or imitate it, or halt it, or rid themselves of it, and so on— or even to define it for that matter. And that’s only speaking of the frail and fragile and oftentimes transient human love in all its glory. How much more then the awesome love of God glowing and burning in the heart of the saints of God! Paul loved his people with a incomprehensible love reflecting the very love of God for his children. And Paul wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip by without sharing the message of the gospel with them. Love, real love, when it flows from the heart of God into the heart of the saint, has one purpose and that is to love; And in love, to also deliver a message of salvation to those who are perishing in their sins.
God’s people in Jerusalem, both Jews and Jewish converts to Christianity were as John the Baptist once described them when he said: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7-9) His people took pride and comforted themselves in the fact that they were Jews and in God’s good graces, as did the newly converted Jewish Christians as well. They too took pride in the fact that they were of Jewish stock and that they were still zealous for Moses and for the Law. Especially the converts among them seemed to be too far from the mind of Christ who wanted to reconcile the world— both Jews and Gentiles— to God, and to make the two peoples one through the gospel of his grace; the gospel that cost him the life of his One and Only Son. But in their pride and unrepentant hearts, they remained fruitless to God. Paul, who loved them as a father or mother loves their children was eager to help them see God’s vision for the gospel of Christ tearing down all barriers between people, both Jews and Gentiles, removing all hostility and bringing peace to all who confess the name of Christ. Only then can they truly bear good fruit to God!
What an amazing hope Paul had for his people— To hope for them to behold such a glorious vision so that they might rise above their pettiness, and above their bigotries and prejudices and hypocrisies; That they might rise above their inane nationalism and exclusivism as a race and a nation above all others! He wanted them to learn from Christ to be a people serving all other peoples as their Christ himself did— to be a shepherd nation bringing the light of the Savior to all the nations as they should. For this reason alone Paul was ready to go to Jerusalem and also ready to walk right into the lion’s den. For this he was ready to give his life! He wasn’t eccentric nor was he crazy. Actually he was imitating our Lord Jesus who gave his own life and urged all of us to do the same! And we are grateful that Paul spelled out the way a true Christian should value his or her life— what meaning and purpose he or she should ascribe to it! He said it in his farewell address to the Ephesian church elders: “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (20:24) He says it again here in our key verse: “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (21:13) As we said time and again, there are things in life not worth giving your life for, that many actually end up giving their lives for. Yet there are things worth giving our life to— spending our life on— even wasting our life on— dedicating our life to and for— committing and pouring our life into— that is, Christ and his gospel! Christ is worth it. His gospel is worth it. Paul went to Jerusalem to do just that. He knew he will suffer, be chained and imprisoned never to taste freedom again in his life. But he went anyway because he loved his people. But more than that, because he loved his Christ! Let’s see how he ended up in Jerusalem.
Look at verses 1-4. Paul sailed straight to Cos, to Rhodes, and on to Patara. Then Luke tells us that they sailed on to Phoenicia. After sighting the island of Cyprus, they continued sailing onto Syria where they landed at Tyre, one of the most famous and ancient cities of modern day Lebanon. The ship needed to unload its cargo, which seemed to take almost seven days to do, (4), Paul and his companions didn’t waste time at all there. Look at what they did in verse 4. They went ahead and found some Christian folk (whom they called disciples in those days— disciples of the Lord Jesus) and decided to stay with them. And this turns out to be a very interesting encounter and fellowship. To begin with, they weren’t Paul’s disciples, and most probably neither they knew Paul and his company nor did he know them. But that was irrelevant to either of them. They were glad to fellowship with one another because they all belonged to one family— that of Christ Jesus. This reminds me Jesus was once told: “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” And so he looks at those seated in a circle around him, and he says: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:32-35) In Christ Jesus our Lord, the Christian family isn’t bound by rules of familiarity or of personal knowledge nor even by blood ties, but rather bound by faith in the Christ and by the purpose we have in common, which is to uphold the will of God in heaven and on earth. Paul and his companions found warm loving hospitality among these Christian friends in Tyre.
Look at verse 4b. “Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” We know that the Holy Spirit convicted Paul to go onto Jerusalem. But these Christians were urging him in the Holy Spirit not to. It may seem as if the Holy Spirit is at variance with Himself in this matter, but He’s not! These Christians were speaking out of their love and genuine concern for Paul, a fellow Christian and a pillar in the Christian world. They felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to warn him. Yet Paul, also by the Holy Spirit was not deterred in his resolution to go to Jerusalem. And when they had all said their farewells, Paul’s company sailed from Tyre, stopped at Ptolemais for a day and reached Caesarea where they stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist for an unspecified number of days (10). Look at verses 8-9. Interestingly, however briefly, Luke describes Philip and his household for us, and he may have done so for a good reason. He first tells us that this Philip is “One of the Seven”. In other words, he wasn’t the Apostle Philip, one of Jesus’ original disciples, but one of the first original seven deacons chosen to minister to the needs of the Jerusalem church along with Stephen and the others. (Acts 6:5) Philip, like Stephen had been a powerful preacher. He is the one who pioneered Samaria, this despised and outcast race, and warmly welcoming them into the family of the Lord Jesus. Finally he was the one who helped establish relations between them and the Jerusalem church. No sooner did the Apostles arrive in Samaria to bless his ministry, that the Holy Spirit carried him to the desert to witness to an Ethiopian envoy returning home. (Acts 8) After this, Philip goes to Caesarea where he must have been living ever since. (8:40) I believe Paul and his company could well identify with a pioneer and a visionary at heart like Philip— someone who understands and obeys God’s command to be “A light for the Gentiles.” (13:47)
Luke also tells us that Philip “Had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.” Now, why should he ever mention that fact at all? It wasn’t uncommon in those days for some Christian households to have a gifted son or daughter who prophesied, because it was the promise of the Holy Spirit— who was poured out on Pentecost and thereafter— among other gifts and promises as He said: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy.” (2:17) One son or daughter with the gift of prophesy is remarkable in a Christian household. But to have four daughters, all gifted as such was perhaps unheard of. And all four were unmarried. Unlikely that Luke mentioned them to advertize suitors either. Philip’s home must have been indeed a very godly home. While other teenage girls in that coastal town of Caesarea enjoyed shopping and clothes, talked about the latest fashion, chased after boys and gossiped about “guess who did what”, Philip’s daughters were seeking after the Lord, studying the word of God, and praying and witnessing. And the Lord reciprocated by giving them spiritual insight, which edified those they served with the word of God. No one knows why they remained unmarried. Perhaps it was their own choice to remain celibate. Luke mentions them because Philip’s household must have been a haven for the company whereby these girls served them for the many days they stayed.
Look at verses 10-15. These were the final days before Paul journeys on to Jerusalem. Something happened while he stayed at Philip’s house. A prophet named Agabus visits and takes hold of Paul’s belt, then proceeds to tie his own hands and feet with it, and then utters a solemn prophesy: “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” We’re not sure who knew other than Paul and his companions what would happen to him in Jerusalem. Perhaps a large part of their restful time was because no one knew but them. But after Agabus dramatized his prophesy, the whole church in Caesarea knew and they none could be silenced! Everyone began to plead with him not to go to Jerusalem. This wasn’t the first time Paul had to deal with this kind of pressure. It’s crushing, especially when it comes from very close people, close friends— even closer people yet— family members! What do you do when those who very much love you are pressuring you— in their good conscience, and with good intentions, and with loving hearts— not to do what you know in your heart that the Lord absolutely wants you to do? That was Paul’s situation. You might think, it’s easy to simply brush them off because God wants me to do it. But as I said, it’s not that easy, not when people you love and who love you are the ones pressuring you to give it up. Even the great man of God Paul had a hard time with this. And we can take a lesson or two from him instead of thinking this is an easy one. Look at what he says in verse 13. “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart?” It is unimaginable how difficult it must have been for him to refuse them. In fact it was heart wrenching, heart breaking, it was crushingly difficult, even tormenting for him to disappoint them, to let them down by insisting on going to Jerusalem.
But in spite of a painfully breaking heart, Paul stands firm on his decision. How did he overcome the tremendous pressure of those who would have him give up this endeavor (1) for his own good, and (2) because the majority ruled that it was the sensible thing to do? His words in verse 13, our key verse tell us how. Read verse 13. They are the rock on which he stood against the continuous onslaught of so many attempts to abandon the way of the cross in his own life for an easier way— or to abandon God’s will and look for a way out! They were that life value he found in Christ when he first met Christ personally and when he found the value of the Christ he met, he then exchanged the world for him, considering he once had for prestige and honor and wealth and glory, considering them and everything else now a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ for whose sake he lost everything. Christ had become his new life value. Christ had become his everything, his treasure. Paul was now living for him and for him alone. More than that, in Christ he had also found a new meaning and purpose to his life. There was a time when he found meaning in his job as a prosecutor of the Christian church. His ultimate purpose was to bring down the Christian sect. But when he found out that the sect he hated was Jesus himself, who didn’t condemn him but loved him and made him a witness of his grace, Paul’s meaning and purpose of life changed. It usually does, when a person comes to understand that although he lives as an enemy of God, God in turn loves him and saves him still. This grace is usually overwhelming and life changing. It changes our understanding of life to the core. That’s why Paul now only wanted to talk about the grace of Jesus to everyone. And when you stand on these two things: on what two things? He knew the value of life is only in Christ. And, his life meaning and purpose were in Christ. When he stood on these two things, he could overcome the overwhelming pressure to give it all up. So many do give it up, simply because they are not clear on this matter. Read verse 13b. “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Indeed!
Regarding the pressures Paul received to abandon his God given convictions by those who loved him and whom he loved in return, which often broke his heart, as we said, the road was often difficult. He survived and triumphed, but it wasn’t easy as his heart broke and their heart broke as well having been disappointed and let down for his refusal to heed their pleas. As we said he stood on the rock, his Christ, and on what he had come to value in life. Still, there is something that needs to be said in his favor. To the Galatian church Paul once said something that also sheds light on his battle to stand firm on the will of God, that is, on how he fights these battles as they come his way among the many who grow close to him and then come to think that they have a say in the way they should direct or advise him, since often people may feel close enough to impose their ideas and counsel on Paul and expect him to obey without question just simply because they know him well enough or simply because they are older, or just because they are very rich donors of the church. They might feel that they have the authority to pressure Paul to follow their guidance, even to the point of breaking his heart with their pleas. Anyway, Paul once said these words that shed light on his struggle. He said: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10) Indeed, Paul struggled to please God, not men. If he were to please men, he would bend to pressure every time. But since he was living to please God and to do God’s work, he needed to obey God, even if it made others angry with him, even if it alienated the whole world from him. This was Paul’s faith, his strength. That is why he could say: “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Look at verses 14-16. when he couldn’t be dissuaded, they finally gave up and they came to the best conclusion: “The Lord’s will be done.” They said this in resignation. But in reality it was the greatest prayer ever made in this situation, for it was the Lord’s prayer. Then they made their way to Jerusalem. They all went to the house of Mnason, one of the early disciples, where Paul and his company stayed. Paul was now ready for whatever was waiting for him in this city. He had prepared his heart. Paul had a heart for his people to serve them with the gospel so that they too may see God’s vision and break away from their narrowness and selfishness and rise up to be the nation and people God wanted them to be— a shepherd nation— and a Bible teaching nation— a light for the Gentiles. And Paul was ready even to die if necessary to bring that message of the gospel to them if necessary. With this conviction he was now ready to enter the city. May God give us the same spirit as he had, the conviction he had, the vision he had for his people, so that we too may serve our generation with the same passion. Amen.